Digital Camera or Smartphone when Traveling?


Due to the advancement of camera quality in smartphones over the past few years, they have been a lot of traveler’s go to device for photography instead of a digital camera. However, for the selected few like me, I prefer to take both when I travel for a couple of reasons. Read on to find out if you need to bring a digital camera on your travels or just rely on your smartphone.

First off, not all smartphone cameras or digital cameras are made the same. There are a lot of factors that determines how good a device’s camera is. For example: sensor size, megapixels, and optics are the few things that come to mind. I could go into detail about them, but for the purpose of this post we’ll assume readers here have a recent smartphone or digital camera.

Here are some reasons I would take a digital camera:

Image Quality:
Although smartphone cameras have come a long way, they still cannot compete with digital cameras in terms of image quality. Dynamic range, amount of details, low light qualities are what makes a digital camera shine over your smartphone.

If you have an interchangeable lens camera then you can swap out the lens to fit your shooting situation. You have the ability to shoot ultra-wide (landscapes), telephoto optics (for wildlife) or a zoom lens (all in one general purpose). In comparison, smartphones generally have a wide-angle lens which limits the versatility (similar to a prime lens on digital cameras) You are stuck to one focal length and have to position yourself accordingly based on your subject.

Although smartphones have digital zoom if you need to have a closer view, they will result in poor grainy image quality compared to optical zooms on digital cameras.


Olympus OMD-EM10 with 14-42mm zoom & 19mm prime lenses

Manual Controls:
Manual controls on cameras allow you to mess around with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings. This allows you more control over your images to achieve the look you want. Although smartphone cameras are starting to have manual control they are not as user friendly and feels clutter with all the text/symbols being overlaid on your screen. For most smartphone users, they just want to take a snap and be done with it without needing to worry about what settings they need to adjust.

A lot of smartphones do not provide expandable storage so eventually you will run out of space if you only have 16gb or 32gb. Cameras on the other hand, allows you to pop in a spare memory card when you run out of space. These memory cards are small so you can carry a couple with you when you travel, which I highly recommend you should do.

Smartphones can upload images to the cloud but the process is not that easy when you’re traveling.


Battery Life:
Digital camera batteries usually last long for you to get a full day of shooting. There is also the advantage of being able to pop in a new battery when it runs out, something which smartphones use to have but are slowly removing as they get thinner and thinner each year. Always carry extra batteries with your digital camera.

Not all cameras have viewfinders but they are more likely to have one than on your smartphone. When I look into a viewfinder, there is that couple of seconds where it feels like I am looking through the eyes of my camera and connecting with my subject.

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” -Susan Meiselas

Reasons why only a smartphone might be perfect for your trip:

Travel Light:
If you are already bringing your smartphone with you, it makes sense for you to use it as your camera. Not only will it free up space but there will be less stuff you would need to carry around with you.

Quicker to Access:
With a smartphone camera, you can quickly take a couple pictures and then put it back into your pocket with ease.


Image Quality:
Today’s smartphone cameras are able to deliver image quality that are on par with some digital cameras. For most people, they won’t even be able to tell the difference unless they start pixel peep.

Lots of Features:
Smartphone cameras have a bunch of features like time-lapse, slow-motion, panoramas, and more. You can also download additional apps for more features.


Ability to Share
You can share your images right away to your social media accounts, whereas with a digital camera you would need to transfer over your photo first before you can even begin sharing them.

Edit Instantly:
Smartphones allow you to edit your photos on the go within seconds through apps like Snapseed, Instagram, etc.. They might not be as advanced as computer applications but they will do the job just find for most users.

Video quality on smartphones are starting to be really good with the option to livestream from Facebook or Instagram. Again, features like slow-motion, and time-lapse mode on smartphones are convenient and there when you need them.


When it comes to technology, there is never a right answer. In, the end for most things, it will come down to preference. You will need to figure out what is more important to you when deciding whether to bring a digital camera with you or just rely on your smartphone. For people that have both devices, they might bring both or choose to leave one behind depending on their needs.

For me, I use my smartphone camera for the small stuff like selfies, food, and quick videos. I tend to use my smartphone mostly for navigation, yelp, and social media during the duration of my trip. While my digital camera takes care of the rest. I like to bring along 2 memory cards, and 2 spare batteries with me so I can shoot for the entire day and recharge overnight for the next day. The experience I get when shooting with a digital camera, viewfinder, and image quality are factors that make me choose to bring it along.

4 thoughts on “Digital Camera or Smartphone when Traveling?

  1. There are absolutely pros and cons to both. I have found that I often think, I’m going to leave the DSLR at home, but I never do. It would be so much lighter, but I would miss the fantastic photos that my actual camera takes..

    Liked by 1 person

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